post by Faith Freeman
An anonymous tip-off. Odd-looking behaviour. A ‘suspicion’. That was all it took for Housing New Zealand to swing into its ‘zero tolerance to methamphetamine’ action plan (Brown, 2016).
Step 1: Mobilise 20 to 30 Housing New Zealand staff per property to investigate and act.
Step 2: Erect yellow warning tape around the home so that it looks like the scene of a police murder investigation.
Step 3: Employ private meth-cleaning contractors, decked out in boiler suits, breathing apparatus and gas masks to test for the most minute trace of methamphetamine and launch full-scale de-contamination of the property.
Step 4: Evict vulnerable state house tenants onto the street and blacklist them for 12 months.
Step 5: Make sure state home is left empty for months in the middle of the country’s worst ever housing crisis.
Step 6: Take evicted state house tenants to the Tenancy Tribunal to retrieve costs for the above.
All based on the mistaken idea that third hand methamphetamine causes irreparable harm and tenants were better off wandering the streets than risking exposure. In a case of the mother state gone mad, Housing New Zealand repeated this insane, inhumane and damaging process hundreds of times, at a cost of over $75 million.
“We are not going to risk houses suspected of being drug dens today, becoming potentially toxic playgrounds for innocent children in the future,” said Social Housing Minister at the time, Paula Bennett, on her emotionally-charged moral crusade (Hunt, 2015). Pity about the poor children of today’s state house tenants who ended up homeless, sleeping in cars and tents. ‘Demonised’ tenants were even told to dispose of their ‘contaminated’ belongings if they wanted any chance of a state house in the future.
Finally, Chief Science Advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, has released a report validating what experts in the field of toxicology have been saying, and Housing New Zealand has been ignoring, for over two years (Brown, 2016). That the entire meth contamination scare was a rort fuelled by an exploitative meth testing and cleaning industry, a poor understanding of scientific levels for contamination and a punitive National government with a ‘zero tolerance’ for social responsibility.
“There’s absolutely no evidence in the medical literature anywhere in the world, of anybody being harmed by passive exposure to methamphetamine at any level,” said a mystified Sir Peter, adding that the level of hysteria around meth contamination “makes no sense” (Collins, 2018).
Quite. Especially when you consider the millions spent on this mad, moral panic when there is a long history of medical evidence backing up the damaging effect living in cold and mouldy homes has on children. Imagine how many homes Housing New Zealand could have made warm and free of mould for $75 million.
And how did state house tenants end up the scapegoat for the National government’s war on meth? In a classic case of power imbalance, reminiscent of the 1970’s Dawn Raids in south Auckland, the government flexed their muscle on a group powerless to fight back. Where’s the ‘social’ conscience in our social housing system gone? Not only did the government have no evidence for their evictions, given baseline tests for meth were not conducted before tenants moved in, but a social policy that throws potential meth users onto the street is in direct conflict with medical advice that treatment for drug use is best done while in permanent, stable accommodation (Brown, 2016).
It’s almost laughable that Paula Bennett is now the one calling for official apologies and compensation to state house tenants whose lives have been upended unnecessarily by the zero-toleration policy. “I’ve always had concerns about the level of testing once I understood it, to be fair…”.
Too little, too late, sorry Bennett. The damage is done to those tenants you turfed onto the streets, many of whom ended up homeless and are still struggling to find stable accommodation with winter setting in fast. Phil Twyford may have inherited this fiasco, but it’s up to him to put the sad, sorry saga to right. So far, he’s saying the right things, with a promise this government will be more compassionate, rather than punitive, towards its state housing tenants. “New Zealanders most in need of a roof over their head should no longer fear losing their homes,” (Blyth, 2017).
But compensation where due is what’s needed to recompense tenants for economic, social and emotional damage they have suffered. For this Government to show its true social heart, to repair trust and to acknowledge the value of these people’s lives it needs to apologise and compensate them for the injustice they have endured.
Blyth, S. (2017, August 6). It’s going to take more than a referendum to sort out NZ’s drugs issues. The Spinoff. Retrieved from https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/13-12-2017/its-going-to-take-more-than-a-referendum-to-sort-out-nzs-drugs-issues/
Brown, R. (2016). Poor foundations – testing homes for meth gone awry. NZ Drug Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.drugfoundation.org.nz/matters-of-substance/august-2016/poor-foundations/
Collins, B. (2018, May 29). Meth house contamination debunked by PM’s science advisor. Radio New Zealand. Retrieved from https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/358454/meth-house-contamination-debunked-by-pm-s-science-advisor
Hunt, T. (2015, November 9). P contamination rampant and growing in New Zealand state homes. The Dominion Post. Retrieved from https://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/73219533/P-contamination-rampant-and-growing-in-New-Zealand-state-homes%20-%20NOv%205